What should I wear to a business meeting at a hip company?
October 10, 2006 6:05 PM   Subscribe

What should I wear to a business meeting at a hip technology company?

I have an upcoming business meeting with some executives at a cool Bay Area technology company. I'm an engineer, so I'm used to dressing comfortably (okay, occasionally slovenly). I have a few nice looking suits, but I'm worried that I will look stuffy and uncomfortable if I wear one to the meeting.

I'd like to look cool, competent and comfortable, but also appropriately 'dressed up'. What should I wear?

Whatever you recommend will likely not be in my wardrobe already, so suggestions about where to shop would be appreciated as well.
posted by Xazeru to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You will never, never, never, never, never, never, never go wrong wearing a suit to an interview.

Even an interview for the circus.

Wear a suit.
posted by JakeWalker at 6:07 PM on October 10, 2006

Is it an interview or just a meeting?
posted by necessitas at 6:09 PM on October 10, 2006

It isn't an interview, it's an initial meeting to talk about the possibility of sharing some technology.
posted by Xazeru at 6:13 PM on October 10, 2006

My only advice is wear a suit that fits you, including the shirt. See a tailor if necessary. A well tailored suit looks good in any job situation.
posted by rabbitsnake at 6:23 PM on October 10, 2006

Are you the one asking them to do something (buy from you, give you things, do you a favor, etc.)? Or are they asking you to do something for them?

If the former, overdress. If the latter, you've got more freedom.

One great part about a suit is that the jacket and tie come off if you're overdressed. Just make sure the shirt underneath fits well.
posted by mendel at 6:28 PM on October 10, 2006

You know what, I'm going against the grain. No need to wear a tie. Wear a jacket and nice slacks. Make sure they are fashionable and tailored. Sometimes a shirt with no tie gives the same impression while looking casual enough. Make sure you can pull it off though. If you look in the mirror and don't like it go to with the ties.
posted by geoff. at 6:48 PM on October 10, 2006

Wear a suit. If you want to look a bit more hip, make sure you are wearing a shirt and tie that conform to the very latest fashion trends, whatever they are.

You can never, ever go wrong in a business context if you wear a suit, as long as it is a clean, well-fitting suit.
posted by dg at 7:04 PM on October 10, 2006

Suit, a.
posted by oxford blue at 7:13 PM on October 10, 2006

Nice pants and shirt, tie, and a sport jacket of the North Face variety.
posted by brownpau at 7:24 PM on October 10, 2006

I would wear a sport coat and slacks with a tie that can come off if it gets too hot and is appropriate. Blue Blaxer and pressed grey slacks with a button down and a loud colored rep tie would do the trick.

Any department store would do, but if you plan on wearing it multiple times, I would go to Brooks Bros.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:25 PM on October 10, 2006

V-necked cashmere sweater with a tie, if you think there isn't a suit culture. Some creative technology environments do associate suits with accountants and lawyers.
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:28 PM on October 10, 2006

For a business meeting, wear business casual.

Khaki pants with a long sleeve oxford style shirt. Nice shoes and belt as well.

If you want to spiff it up a bit, wear a light sportscoat but be prepared to take it off when you see noone else is wearing one.
posted by Argyle at 7:54 PM on October 10, 2006

I second a nice oxford shirt and a pair of slacks. Wearing a full suit and tie could easily be a liability with a hip tech company. You'd look out of place and more like a sales person than someone with technical expertise. Even the people I meet with at Intel and IBM don't wear suits to meetings anymore.
posted by rhiannon at 9:02 PM on October 10, 2006

You will probably never lose points automatically for wearing a suit, but there is such a thing as "being a good fit" which, at such a company, will likely have nothing to do with wearing a suit. If you are a vendor, fine. Be professional, show respect, etc. If you are on a job interview where you are being evaluated as a long-term member of the team, the suit may actually get in your way.
posted by scarabic at 10:47 PM on October 10, 2006

Wear a suit. If you're overdressed, explain that you have to be somewhere afterwards that requires you to be dressy.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 11:35 PM on October 10, 2006

Several folks who are not from the Bay Area responded:

You will never [...] go wrong wearing a suit to an interview.

You will probably never lose points automatically for wearing a suit.

You can never, ever go wrong in a business context if you wear a suit

They are wrong. If you were to come visiting my technology company -- or any of the ones that I ran or worked for in San Francisco, you will immediately lose points for showing up inappropriately dressed (i.e. too dressy) Especially if you're an engineer. Engineers who want to impress with their wardrobe are less confident about their ability to impress with their aptitiude -- often for good reason. And it's really only their aptitude, personality, and deliverables that I'm interested in.

If you're acting as a sales contact and begging them for money, wear nice slacks, a button down shirt, and carry a sport coat or nice leather/suede jacket. If you're there to talk technology, forget the jacket, and consider a dark button down over a grey T-shirt. Wear something that you're comfortable in, so you're holistically at ease througout your meeting. It's hard to go wrong with a nice black shirt, either button-down or Steve Jobs' style.

Don't wear a tie. You're talking about a relationship that will involve you and their technical people working hours together in the future. Nobody wants to work with a tool.

And good luck!
posted by toxic at 11:47 PM on October 10, 2006

Re: Toxic's 'advice'

Sure, and why don't you put some dirt and twigs in your hair and spray yourself with rum before hand, Just to really complete the look.
posted by oxford blue at 11:52 PM on October 10, 2006 [1 favorite]

I've worked at and interacted with hip tech companies in SF, and I'm guessing the people who say you can never go wrong with a suit have not. If an engineer shows up for an interview in a suit, it is absolutely a strike against him from the other engineers. It makes him a kiss-ass and "one of them". You may be impressing the hiring manager, but tech companies do everything they can to keep their engineers happy. They have a lot of say in hiring decisions, and even more in technology decisions.

That said, if this is a business meeting with executives, you need to look professional. Über-hip clothes are as bad as slovenly. Slacks and a button-down shirt are all you need. A tie is fine, but a jacket is overkill. Being comfortable and confident is much more important than dressing to impress.
posted by team lowkey at 12:10 AM on October 11, 2006

Every company has a different culture, so you're barking up the wrong tree. Call the company's main switchboard, and see if you can make 10 or 15 seconds of polite smalltalk with the receptionist. Do not act like a creep hitting on her. Be up front with her about why you're calling, i.e. ask for her advice about what the dress code should be for someone coming for an interview. Thank her for her advice, and make sure you get her name. When you show up for the interview and if you run into the same receptionist, thank her again for her advice.
posted by randomstriker at 12:11 AM on October 11, 2006

As for shopping...Banana Republic will safely cover most of the range of clothing that might be worn in a workplace, from formal to moderately hip to casual. I'm sure there are tonnes of other options, but BR is a no-brainer.
posted by randomstriker at 12:17 AM on October 11, 2006

I work "at a cool Bay Area technology company" in San Francisco. (Well, relatively cool. I'm sure some would disagree.) I regularly go to meetings, including technology sharing meetings, with Google, Yahoo, and most every smaller technology company out there. When I lived in New York City, I wore suits or dressy outfits nearly every day, and I enjoy dressing up.

You don't need to wear a suit for this meeting. It's simply not what's done. You will sometimes see a sport coat with an open-collared shirt worn by high-level biz dev folks or VPs, and CEOs wear ties when they're making a big announcement or talking to the press. But on a day to day basis, it's simply not common to wear formal business dress in Silicon Valley or San Francisco. Toxic is right about the look that's preferred here, and wearing that sort of outfit will leave your partners more at ease, as well.

I don't mean disrespect to any of the people who dissent above (though oxford blue is inexplicably insistent in his wrongness) but you should understand a culture before you choose to advise on participating in it.

Go to Banana Republic and find the nicer clothes that are next to the suits. They're elegant and clean without being overdressed. A pair of the thin-striped pants and a clean collared shirt will leave you easily the best-dressed guy in the room, without the awkwardness of being the only person on campus wearing a suit.

I'm happy to give you more specifics (including details about a particular company's offices, etc.) if you email my address in my profile.
posted by anildash at 12:19 AM on October 11, 2006

Sure, and why don't you put some dirt and twigs in your hair and spray yourself with rum before hand, Just to really complete the look.

Now, now, there's no need to be nasty.

You lose points for being dressed inappropriately. Showing up dirty and stinking of rum wouldn't work either. The ideal candidate shows up dressed very similarly to the people across the table from him/her. In my line of work (Technology), for my company (a hip technology company in Auckland, formerly a couple of hip technology companies in SF), that means clean, comfortable, casual but not scruffy clothes.

I've spent the last decade and a half working for companies that resemble the one that the OP asked about. I have been (and currently am) the primary decision maker on technology partnerships. And I'm telling you that if Xazeru showed up in my office in a suit, especially if I could tell that he didn't wear them often enough to be comfortable in them, he would have to work harder to close the deal than if he showed up dressed like Steve Jobs (or like me, for that matter).

That is a fact of life in the San Francisco technology industry (which is different than industries in different parts of the country and world) It's what the poster asked about, and it's something that I happen to know a lot about.

Don't like my answer? Feel free to ignore me. But don't be an asshole.
posted by toxic at 12:23 AM on October 11, 2006

Good call on the Banana Republic. That's an easy answer. Go to BR in SF and tell the salesperson you're going to a business meeting with a tech company. They'll know what to do. It's a little bit un-uncool (damn geek chic! How can Huey Lewis be so right and so wrong?) to shop at Banana Republic, but you'll fit in just fine and look good doing it.
posted by team lowkey at 12:31 AM on October 11, 2006

A good quality blazer or jacket should be fine with a collared shirt and chinos.
posted by JJ86 at 6:33 AM on October 11, 2006

Thanks to everyone who took the time to post a response. It was especially helpful to hear from folks who work in the Bay Area.

I went shopping at Banana Republic today and picked up some nice stuff, specifically black dress chinos and a fitted dress shirt.

If the meeting goes as well as the shopping trip, I'll be doing well!
posted by Xazeru at 9:12 PM on October 11, 2006

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